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Schinkel Pavillon

Zofia Stryjeńska

Curated by Paulina Olowska


Paulina Olowska created a frame in which her own paintings from the series Zofia Stryjeńska provided a background for original works by Polish painter Zofia Stryjeńska. Olowska lined the Schinkel Pavillon with a painted floor piece, based on the design of the Polish Pavilion at the 1925 International Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Paris, for which Stryjeńska conceived and displayed her paintings.

The exhibition Collaged Stryjeńska was the first presentation of Stryjeńska’s works in a contemporary art context and included her paintings, but also a small collection of mass-produced items that showed how deeply Stryjeńska’s imagery seeped into popular cultural in Poland. The display in the Schinkel Pavillon’s glass encased octagon recalled the 1925 Polish Pavillon and, with it, Olowska’s organization of the artworks in space attempted to underline the energy and openness of composition that Stryjeńska suggested in her paintings.

Zofia Stryjeńska (1891–1974) was an important member of the Polish art scene in the 1920s and 1930s and an eccentric personality who refused to be constrained by social roles and rules. Too naive-folksy for the formally radical "modernist" avant-garde, she was, on the other hand, too freethinking and innovative in the eyes of patriotic and nationalist neo-folk artists. Typical of Stryjeńska’s paintings, drawings, and murals is their narrative and illustrative style, which incorporates the repertoire of international art deco. The artist’s favorite subjects include Slavic pagan myths, popular Catholic piety, Polish folklore, expressive country-dances, and colorful regional costumes. Yet her treatment of these motifs was highly imaginative and inventive—she created her own Slavic deities, for instance, and portrayed content peasant women in self-confidently erotic poses. Stryjeńska’s participation in the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris (1925), where she furnished the main room of the Polish pavilion with six large-format paintings depicting rural life and the seasons, marked the zenith of her artistic career. After World War II, not least because she refused to join the state-loyal Union of Visual Artists in communist Poland, Stryjeńska emigrated to Switzerland, where she gradually sank into oblivion, while her work was absorbed into Polish popular culture. It was not until 1989, after the collapse of communism in Poland, that her diaries were published, and her work began to receive some of the attention and recognition it deserves.

What fascinated Paulina Olowska, curator of the exhibition, about Stryjeńska was above all her contemporariness, both in attitude and working method, as well as the breadth of her artistic production. Stryjeńska not only painted and drew; she also illustrated children’s books and calendars, and was a prolific designer of fashion, carpets, posters, toys, stage sets, and theater costumes.